NASCAR Race Weekend Central
(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

NASCAR Stat Sheet: How Kyle Busch’s Championship Defense Went Kaboom

In its first two years of existence, the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL put on some incredible races, filled with unpredictability and classic endings. This weekend showcased all of that and more from what’s quickly become one of the most exciting tracks on the circuit.

Between Saturday’s (Oct. 10) NASCAR Xfinity Series and Sunday’s Cup Series event, drivers were pelted with rain to the point there was standing water on the track. My goodness, did you see the downpours throughout the NXS race? I half expected Noah’s Ark to show up.

Sure, the lineups were shaken at times, wet conditions creating wild swings in the running order. In the end, Saturday’s race in particular probably could be classified under Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest.

In all seriousness, many drivers noted they weren’t able to see, and I’m all about driver safety. NASCAR officials could have provided more lighting, at minimum, for parts of the infield road course.

But hidden within the danger was entertainment for the fan base. It was a unique way to run the races and a throwback to a time in NASCAR where you never really knew what was going to happen next. That type of unpredictability was healthy for the sport.

In the end, both races were filled with action, producing plenty of memorable stats for the record books. We’ll dig into it a step further with this week’s edition of NASCAR Stat Sheet.

4

When Chase Elliott held off Martin Truex Jr. at Watkins Glen International for his first career Cup victory in 2018, many people were surprised. Just think of how many potential victories Elliott had let slip away over his first 99 starts. To put it together on a road course? That wasn’t exactly his top skill set entering the Cup Series.

But since then, it’s become his biggest strength. The No. 9 team has still had victories get away from them — hello, Coca-Cola 600 earlier this season — but on road courses, Elliott is stout. Nothing changed in Sunday’s Bank of America ROVAL 400.

Since winning at WGI in 2018, Elliott has piled up four additional victories in six tries, giving him a total of five checkered flags when making left- and right-hand turns. He’s won a grand total of nine races overall, meaning 55% of his career wins in Cup have come on road courses. It’s a pretty impressive streak that shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.

Surely, Elliott’s in favor of six road course races on the Cup schedule in 2021. Could he run the table next season and go six-for-six? I wouldn’t bet against him.

The five road course wins have come in an interesting fashion, too. In both 2018 and 2019 at The Glen, Elliott had to hold off Truex for the duration of the race. Last year at the ROVAL, he crashed heading into turn 1, only to rocket through the field and cruise to victory. In NASCAR’s attempt on the Daytona International Speedway road course two months ago, the No. 9 car dominated, leading over half the race (34 of 65 laps).

On Sunday, it wasn’t so easy. Elliott never had control of the event — he even had to pit when the field was coming to the green flag to begin stage three for a flat tire — until snagging the lead on lap 88. But when he did? It was game over for everybody else.

With five wins on road courses, Elliott is tied for fifth on the all-time NASCAR win list for this type of track. And let’s not forget… he’s just 24 years old.

49

I’ll be honest, entering the 2020 season, Kyle Busch was my pick to win the championship. Man, was I ever wrong.

By most driver’s standards, Busch has had a respectable season, collecting 12 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes. But for Rowdy’s standards, it’s terrible, especially since he’s got a 15-year streak on the line of winning at least one race per season.

Coming into the Round of 12 cutoff event, Busch had many obstacles to overcome. Hell, he entered the race 21 points below the cutline, almost needing an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary touchdown completion in order to continue his championship hopes.

That didn’t happen.

Early in the race, Busch had contact with Clint Bowyer, an incident which cut down his left front tire. But the No. 18 team rebounded, racing straight up to third place late in the day. The stage was set for a potential victory that would advance them to the Round of 8 after all.

Unfortunately for Busch, a caution flew and bad strategy torpedoed their chances. Crew chief Adam Stevens left Busch out on the track, almost knowing there was no way he’d be able to make it to the end on fuel. And he didn’t. The tank ran dry about two laps short of the finish.

The end result is, Busch missed the Round of 8 by a hefty 49 points. That ranks him 11th on the playoff grid (with the reset, he sits one point ahead of Austin Dillon for ninth). Ultimately, it’s the earliest the defending champion has ever been out of the playoffs since the current postseason format came into play (2014).

With just four races remaining, Busch’s lone goal is to win. But if you ask him, he doesn’t think they’re close to front-running speed. Add Busch to the growing list of people just wanting 2020 to be done and over with.

Side note: Kevin Harvick enters the Round of 8 races 45 points above the cutline. Denny Hamlin sits second at +32. Brad Keselowski is +13, with Elliott (+5) sitting fourth. 2018 champion Joey Logano sits fifth (-5), Truex is sixth (-10), with Alex Bowman (-18) and Kurt Busch (-21) rounding out the lineup.

CHEEK: PLAYOFF HOPES DASHED FOR 4 DRIVERS AT THE ROVAL

327

For the past six years, DGM Racing, owned by Mario Gosselin, has dedicated itself to the NASCAR Xfinity Series. In Saturday’s rain-filled, action-packed, wreck-fest race on the ROVAL, the team finally reaped the rewards of their hard work. It’s a result they had never achieved before in 327 NXS starts.

Alex Labbe grew up learning how to go fast while turning left and right. It’s suited him well in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series, winning the 2017 Canadian championship. In 2018, he moved full-time to Xfinity, earning his first top-10 finish at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Though he ran just 10 races last year, Labbe remained impressive, notching a sixth-place finish on his resume at the ROVAL. This season, he’s stayed solid in the No. 36 Chevrolet, earning three top-10 finishes on superspeedways (four starts) and going two-for-four on road courses.

But Labbe upped his game even more on Saturday, staying on the racetrack (shh, he did spin once while running in second, which is better that most can say) and finishing third in the first two stages. His small DGM team earned 16 stage points, the most of all drivers.

In the final stage, Labbe kept up his performance and put some road racing and past rain experience skills to use. Labbe wound up fourth — his first career top-five effort. It’s also DGM’s first such finish in 327 career NXS starts.

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About Dustin Albino

Dustin Albino
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.

One comment

  1. Avatar

    i think out of all the drivers out there, ky busch is the one hurt the most by no practice heading into the race.

    be interesting to see what the post-covid racing schedule is like next year for race day.

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